Training is key for the strengthening of regional consumer agencies.

This view from Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Senator Haynesley Benn, came today as he delivered the opening remarks at the CARICOM Secretariat’s regional seminar on Strengthening the Human Resources Capacity of Consumer Organizations.?? It was held at Grand Barbados Resort.

The seminar, which caters to middle managers in both the public and private sector, will see representatives from nine CARICOM countries receiving training and insight into the role of human resources in consumerism.

Minister Benn said the session was timely and crucial for regional development:

"Seminars such as these should be utilised to set the stage, since the commercial landscape has changed and continues to change dramatically.?? This changing environment has created challenges for the consumer.?? Some of these challenges facing regional consumers are health and safety, the price of goods, inadequate competition, inadequate credit facilities and lack of information on consumer issues," he noted.

The Minister added that government had illustrated its dedication to consumer issues, via the establishment of organisations such as the Fair Trading Commission, the Office of Public Counsel and improvements within the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.?? Senator Benn acknowledged that consumer protection was vital and more encompassing than in previous times.

He stated: "It is known that consumer issues are broader than competitive policy development.?? Other issues include the priority areas of sustainable development, anti-poverty strategies and trade and the wider social issues.?? It is hoped that, in these recessionary times…the appropriate mechanisms will be developed and deployed to counter the rising cost of living."

This latter issue is of great concern to Minister Benn and he indicated that it served to reinforce the critical role that consumer organisations must play in society.

"The strengthening of the consumer affairs bodies could assist in further development of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), as this can be a major tool in the fight against poverty, the eradication of which is an objective of the CSME," the Commerce Minister maintained, emphasising that whilst price controls can be used to protect consumers, effective human resources could aid in the implementation of relevant policies.

Senator Benn expressed the hope that the issues discussed during the seminar will result in action being taken upon the return of participants to their home countries:

"You leave the seminars and workshops full of energy and enthusiasm…when you get back you seem to have forgotten what took place …I would like …?? that you can break down some barriers…and get things done," he urged.

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